London women join elite soccer league
By STEVE GREEN, Free Press Sports Reporter
Some of the best women's soccer players in North America will be coming to London as the city has been granted an expansion franchise in the W-League. Named the Gryphons, the team will officially begin play in 2005, but this year will play a four- or five-game exhibition schedule. Open tryouts will be held in April at Western and the team will play its home games at the stadium pitch at the North London fields.
A branch of the United Soccer Leagues and the female equivalent to the A-League, the W-League is considered amateur by the NCAA, meaning its players are still eligible for U.S. college scholarships.
London will become the eighth Canadian city in the W-League -- currently the top level of women's soccer on the continent since the WUSA suspended operations last year -- joining Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, Sudbury, Edmonton and Calgary. The latter four are among 12 expansion teams this year that bring the league total to 37 in six divisions.
Gryphons general manager Aldo Caranci said the Gryphons will be looking for the area's best players age 16 and up to attend tryouts.
Caranci added it's possible Canadian internationals formerly in the WUSA looking for somewhere to play could wind up here as well, seeing as national coach Even Pellerud wants his players to be playing at least at the W-League level.
London will be placed in the Midwest Division, which this season consists of the Chicago Cobras, Cincinnati Ladyhawks, Cleveland Internationals, Columbus Lady Shooting Stars, Detroit Jaguars, Fort Wayne (Ind.) Fever, West Michigan Edge and Windy City Bluez.
"First of all, it's the U.S. From a marketing standpoint, Canada-Canada doesn't always sell, but Canada-U.S. does," Caranci said of why the Gryphons asked to be placed in the Midwest.
With three minor league baseball failures in London, it's understandable there might be a wait-and-see attitude on the part of potential fans here, but Caranci said the team took a deliberate approach, including this year's exhibition schedule to acclimatize the players to the level of play.
"This took almost a year," he said of getting the team in London. "What convinced them was the background of the elite players we have here. We're committed to this. We know it's going to fly and we've already seen some of the teams we're up against. We took the time to do our homework. I'm a betting man and I'm betting the success of women's soccer, the way it is now, would exceed any men's league you bring in here."
The London franchise, which Caranci said is owned by a consortium that includes individuals from the U.S. and Italy, will be coached by Frank Sauer of London.
Sauer, 49, was capped five times for Canada between 1973 and 1975.
In 1976, he was offered a tryout with the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League, getting a chance to train with the likes of the legendary Pele.
He mentions Cristina Bonasia, Eva Havaris and Kate Bazos as local players he'd like to have on his squad. He saw Bonasia and Havaris play last season as he assisted Western head coach Mike Van Bussel.
Sauer, also the team's technical director, will have control over player selection.
"If I'm going to put my name on it, I'll get the players I want to get," he said.
"I've already had one guy tell me, 'Don't pick that player because I don't get along with her father.' I told him, 'I'm not asking her father to play for me.' "
What: An expansion team in the W-League, a branch of the United Soccer Leagues and currently the highest level of women's soccer in Canada and the U.S., with 37 teams in six divisions this season.
Startup: The Gryphons will play four or five exhibition games this year in preparation for entering the league full time in 2005.
Tryouts: At TD Waterhouse Stadium; April 4, noon-2 p.m.; April 10, 8-10 a.m.; April 18, 6-8 p.m.
Information: Contact general manager Aldo Caranci at 433-0513 or on the Web at www.londongryphonsoccer.com